Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas in the Classroom?


It's that time again, where we're decking the halls and donning our gay apparel, the time of the year where Christians celebrate the birth of Christ and Jews celebrate their festival of lights. It's also probably the busiest time of year for the ACLU, or the American Civil Liberties Union. The more nativity scenes on display and the more school Christmas programs dusting off their Away in a Manger sheet music, the more atheists and holiday-hijackers are up in arms filing complaints. And now it seems they have a doozy on their hands.

The Tea Party movement has been spreading like a wildfire and they have been popping up everywhere. Self-proclaimed protectors of the Constitution, they're organizing protests nationwide fighting big government, Obama, the stimulus package, and health care reform. Now, one of the tea party patriots is ironically pushing big government into our faces and ignoring separation of church and state as declared in the Constitution they claim to protect. Merry Hyatt, a substitute teacher in California is pushing a bill that will make singing religiously based-Christmas carols mandatory in public schools.

Now I respect everyone's rights to practice religion how, when, and where they choose. However, I also respect everyone's rights to not have someone else's religion crammed down their throats, especially in a public school system where no singular religious group foots the bill, but where everyone pays taxes to keep such facilities running. Will I stop a Christian child from reading the bible at school? No. Will I tell a Muslim they can't do a few of their five daily prayers on school grounds? Hell no. Will I tell a Jehovah's Witness, Mormon, Buddhist, or atheist child they have to sing the holiday praises to the Christian God and his son? Absolutely not.

As previously mentioned, in the US, we have a theoretical standard of separation between religion and state. Theoretical because it's rarely true but standard because it's in the Constitution. This is generally in place to keep major religions (Judaism and Christianity) from overpowering the minority (everyone else). And Christians are not happy about it. They stand firm on their beliefs that this country was founded on Christian roots and that above all else this is a Christian country, everyone else is just along for the ride. Christian activists in Cobb County, GA were able to strong arm their school district into teaching the Christian belief of creationism alongside the scientifically-driven theory of evolution. Many activists have been pushing for specified prayer times in classrooms for years. Now we're pushing for Christian hymns to be sung in school, simply because they embody the holiday of the season.

I am in no way against religion in public schools specifically, but my beef lies in the fact that when we say "allow prayer in school" or "allow holiday songs in school", we are not talking about the mosaic of religions that comprise the US and its public school systems. We are not talking about prayer times for every religion, nor are we talking about holiday programs for every religious holiday of every student. We are simply talking Christianity. Christian prayer, Christian songs. Their recommendation for everyone else? "During prayer time, if your child isn't Christian, they can put their heads down on their desks until we're done praying". Why should their time, time specified for education, be wasted while waiting for others to practice their religions? As for Christmas programs, non-Christians "can leave the classroom while the Christian students rehearse, and stay at home the night of the big show". As if kids needed one more reason to feel different, excluded, separate from their peers. For the majority of Christian parents, this is not a problem to them, because it's their religion being observed. But what if your child's education was placed on hold two or three times a day while Muslim children prayed? Or if holiday and birthday parties were suspended altogether because there's more Jehovah's Witnesses in your child's class than Christians?

Now one could argue that allowances could be made for every religion. Prayer time for all, holiday celebrations for all, teachings of all religious perspectives, etc. Some countries have mastered the art of religious compromise. Jordan's Queen Rania recently posted a photo of her son's Christmas concert via Twitter (above), presumably taking place at school. The royal family of Jordan is a devout Islamic family, but exceptions are made to observe the main holiday of the mere 6% of Christians in the country. However, here in America, this would infringe upon the rights of atheistic children in this country. And school schedules are so tight these days, teachers barely have time to teach the basics, let alone have parties for every holiday or cut time out of the busy day for various prayers.

The only solution? Keep it out altogether. School is for learning, church is for praying and singing religious songs. If you want to mix the two, send your child to a religious school or home-school them. But it's time we stop smearing the line between church and state, because no matter what is done, someone's civil liberties are going to be trampled.


spiritualbrother said...

I think the separation of Church and State is not actually mentioned in the constitution, but is rather mentioned in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to a friend of his.

CAT said...

A few years ago when I was a public school teacher in Arizona(USA)I was handed a written policy from the Superintendent of Schools discussing the mixing of religion into my curriculum. Very briefly it stated that, if I were to do ANYTHING relating to religion (including holidays) that I had to teach SOMETHING about each of the five major world religions equally. So, since I was not wanting to implement such a deep study for my 6 and 7 year-old first graders, I chose to avoid religion all together.

It was interesting, though, that most other first, second, and third grade teachers in my school spent hours upon hours of teaching time decorationg their classrooms, teaching their children holiday songs, and holding lavish celebrations at Christmas and Easter, conveniently forgetting about the policy, and usually hurting their students' end of the year test results.

In my classroom, we used just ONE day before winter recess and ONE day again before spring break to enjoy a good movie, good snacks, and some fun games. (No extra expenses on my part, no loss of taxpayers' money, and essentially no loss of the students' education.

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